As long as we can remember, culture has changed and shifted quite dramatically. The modes and methods in which organisations, companies and media have had to alter their delivery to ensure that the message isn’t only effective, but prevents it from being completely lost.
Unfortunately, a lot of Churches choose not to operate in this way, instead seemingly choose to continue with old methods that may have worked once upon a time but have become increasingly irrelevant and ineffective. I have noticed a drastic increase of resignations (both voluntary and forced) amongst many of my Children’s, Youth & Young Adults pastors in the past year or so. When I’ve asked them what happened, it’s more-often-than-not due to the Church not appreciating or buying into necessary change. Change that is necessary to ensure they remain relevant to the people they are trying to reach. Make no mistake… this is a problem.
I believe it’s crucially important to continually rethink how we do ministry if we are to remain relatable to the community around us. If you’ve spent any time with me in a ministry setting, you know I’m big on asking the question “how can we have greater impact?”. This is what it means to rethink how you do ministry; to constantly reinvent yourself as a ministry and Church. I will list 5 very basic ways you can rethink ministry in your context.
1. Stop with the gimmicks
I mean it; stop it. If you need pyrotechnics and giveaways to get people to Church, it means you’re likely a gimmicky ministry. While these things aren’t inherently bad for outreach, the reality is that if you need gimmicks to attract people to your Church, you’ll also need gimmicks to keep them in your Church.
This is where ‘on-ramps’ are so important. What is your strategy for connecting people into the life of your Church? What’s your follow-up process?
In his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, Maslow makes it clear that humans crave belonging and relationship. Stop trying to be ‘cool’ and try warmth for a while.
2. What does your community look like?
What does your community look like? Do you even know? I ask this because we can become so insular that we forget that Church should exist to reach the lost, and not only to appease the comfort levels of the Churched. Church isn’t a country club where the Jones’ and Smiths catch up once a week; it’s an organism that God has designed to GO.
Know what your community looks like and ensure that you adjust your on-ramps accordingly to ensure that the people you are trying to reach don’t feel alienated or out of place if and when they come to your Church doors.
3. What does your community need?
What are the needs of your community? How one would do ministry in Texas would likely differ to how they would do ministry in Australia. Is your community an affluent one? Or perhaps your community is one whose most basic survival needs are seldom met.
Yes, at the end of the day people need Jesus. That’s the ‘correct’ answer, and I do agree with that wholeheartedly. But even Jesus recognised that people had other needs and acted accordingly.
I remember a Church I was pastoring at; this was quite an insular Church that had the image of being a Brady Bunch church; that is, everyone in it seemed to have it all together in life. Of course, this sent an unattainable image to the community, but that’s a story for another day.
One day, a homeless person came in to talk to someone; and no one seemed to know what to do. So this man walked out and was never seen again.
This broke my heart, and not a day goes by that I wish I could’ve acted differently.
But make sure you know what your community needs; their salvation may depend on it.
4. How can you leverage culture?
This is something that I have done a complete 180 with over the past decade. I was raised to believe that culture was the enemy of the Church, with the echoes of 1 John 2 drilled into me. Whilst I believe it’s important to not be sucked in by the world and its system, it’s also important to understand what culture is doing because whether we like it or not, this is where we are going to meet people.
We can make up awesome looking fliers and other marketing, but the reality is most people won’t come to you if you look out of touch with reality. It’s for this reason that it’s important to leverage culture (to an extent).
In a lot of ways, it’s about speaking the everyday language of the community; what’s currently ‘in’? And how can you use this to bring people in?
Some of the greatest outreach outcomes I have experienced are the ones where we use cultural references to share Jesus.
But be careful; it’s a fine line between effective cultural outreach and tackiness.
5. Are your existing people passionate about Church?
Is your Church a Country Club or a mission-sending mothership? Are people genuinely excited about the Church’s mission, or are they more happy in their Sunday comfort. If people in your Church aren’t looking for creative ways to connect outsiders to your Church then you probably have a purely intrinsic Church is who not following its call to make disciples of all people. The is the crux of the local Church; to be effective in reaching the lost, not entertaining the existing members.
So are people in your Church passionate about Church? If not, I’d challenge you as the Church leader to create and cast some vision for everyone to get on board. Without this, Church becomes either an afterthought or a routine-based chore; neither of which are the purpose of the Church.
I’d like to close with sone closing words from Kurt Cobain: “it is better to burn out with passion than fade away”. Burn with passion and adjust your ministry accordingly. The only thing worse than failing in this pursuit of passion is not trying at all, instead choosing to fade away in insular irrelevance as the world passes away without knowing Jesus; all because you chose outdated (and let’s face it: safe) methods.
The reality is, people need to ‘do’ Church rather than ‘attend’ Church. This is particularly true of young people who are growing increasingly cynical of ‘organized religion’. It’s probable that a lot of Churches are failing simply because they are using outdated methods without regarding the modern-day deepest of the community around it.
Rethink. Revise and Review.